The Malta Independent 26 May 2019, Sunday

The International Spring Orchestra Festival 2019

Tuesday, 23 April 2019, 13:00 Last update: about 2 months ago

Previewing an extended week of concerts at the end of April

An eternity of music: 100 years of Bauhaus. The Maidens arrive in Valletta for nine days of concerts. The 2019 International Spring Orchestra Festival celebrates beauty, and in doing so resists death's grasp. This year's programme is vigorous, beguiling, haunting. Artistic director karl Fiorini returns with more each year: more energy, more depth, more risk. Ateş Orga, introduced by Nikki Petroni

It's April and time again for Valletta's annual International Spring Orchestra Festival, now in its 13th edition. Karl Fiorini, its Paris-based founder and artistic director, has come up with a bold programme of nine concerts, Of Death and Maidens, exploring a repertory from the classicists to today, in venues ranging from the National Museum of Archaeology and Malta Society of Arts to the Manoel Theatre. Great music, dark music, masterworks and poems, innocence cherished, innocence lost, take the listener on a journey of cultural, psychological and personal discovery. "Youth," he says, "is when one - supposedly - is filled with life, with dreams, and gets carried away. Some content themselves with what the tide brings in; others search perpetually what the future might have in store for them. Death takes all this away, wiping superfluous hopes and delusions of grandeur to oblivion. This year I've intentionally woven a programme of ostensibly antithetical choices. So we have premonitions and swansongs. Beethoven's final piano sonata ... Schubert's Death and the Maiden string quartet. Children through adult eyes. Schumann's Kinderscenen. Children no more - Mahler's Kindertotenlieder. The music of our own time gives hope that out of death comes life, winter's sleep slipping into spring's awakening. Obliquely - offset against Hindemith and Poulenc, Frankfurt and Paris - we remember the centenary of one of the most important artistic movements to shape the 20th century: Bauhaus."

The festival opens with the Harmonia Consort from England, led by Eulalie Charland making a welcome return to Malta, playing Mussorgsky and Schubert's Death and the Maiden. Sandwiched in between is Arnold Schoenberg's pre-First World War Book of the Hanging Gardens, a cycle of 15 terse songs suggestive of "a love affair against a luxuriant background" unfolded through six allusory, ultimately tragic life stations. Orchestral transcription unifies the programme, with Mahler's iconic 1896 string arrangement of the Schubert offset by the world premiere of Karl Fiorini's challenging new string version of the Schoenberg, written originally for voice and piano. Clare Ghigo is the mezzo soloist.

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The original version of Death and the Maiden, a landmark of the repertory, features in the third concert, by the Hungarian Somogyi String Quartet, coupled with Schoenberg's epic First Quartet, the first performance of which, attended by Mahler, ended in tumult, hissing and walk-out. Six years later Stravinsky's Sacre du printemps savaged Paris ... the face of European storm and stress more than a century ago.

The festival's two other chamber concerts spotlight a contemporary evening with the Aquilon Trio from Britain, appearing at the Malta Society of Arts. And piano trios by Shostakovich (his love-impassioned First) and Schubert in the Manoel Theatre with the Swiss-based Trio Ameraldi. "One glance" at Schubert's piano trios, the bright-voiced, sad-eyed Biedermeier children of Beethoven's legacy, worshipped Schumann, "and the troubles of our human existence disappear". Clarinettist with the Aquilon is Max Mausen, the popular former principal of the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra. He'll be playing the New York Trio by Charles Camilleri, who died 10 years ago. The most internationalised, published and recorded of all 20th century Maltese composers, Camilleri's legacy as since has become dissipated, the archives vague and gapped if not blank, his compositions at best indifferently catalogued and infrequently performed. An irrepressible adventurer, music for him was about affirmations, excitations and contradictions of silence and heartbeat. No post-war voice bridged so many styles and disciplines nor engaged such a wide cross-section of society. The programme includes additionally Thea Musgrave's 1985 Pierrot, its three commedia dell'arte protagonists - Pierrot, Columbine and Harlequin - personified by violin, clarinet and piano respectively. New French pieces by Dominique Lièvre and Roland Conil will be receiving their world premieres.

A predominantly drama-focussed Beethoven recital by the French-based Azerbaijani pianist Saida Zulfuragova is offset by two song evenings from soprano Gillian Zammit and harpist Britt Arend and baritone Joseph Lia with Natalia Rakhmatulina. Gillian's programme is an elegant mixture of French, English and Maltese settings, including two songs from Alex Vella Gregory Verità cycle, "the progress of a failed relationship", to words by the composer. Joseph's "death" songs, grouped into German, Russian and Italian pairs, explore beauty and pathos out of bleakness and endings. Natalia interpolates two posthumously published Chopin fragments.

The Rising Stars slot is a favourite platform of the International Spring Orchestra Festival. This year, in a twist on the theme, just a single artist, 12-year-old pianist Daphne Delicata from Gozo, will be giving a mini-recital before each of the three final concerts in the Manoel Theatre, 2-4 May. This coming September Daphne, one of the success stories of the 2018 festival, will be commencing advanced studies in England at the Yehudi Menuhin School, the first musician from the Maltese Islands to be accepted by this world-leading establishment.

Two orchestral concerts round off the festival, featuring the Estonian Sinfonietta from Tallinn, the first without conductor, the second with. Led by Johannes Põlda, the first, a largely "northern" programme (down to Sibelius's Valse triste), highlights Richard Strauss's Metamorphosen, written in the last weeks of the Second World War, with destruction surrounding its aged composer, "the fruits of Germany's 2,000-year-long cultural development", as he put it, "condemned to extinction" - in an inviting reconstruction following the original string septet short-score discovered in Switzerland in 1990.

Directed by Paris-based Brian Schembri, former artistic director of the Malta Philharmonic, needing no introduction, the closing event brings the French mezzo Brigitte Peyré to Valletta, for Mahler's eternal Kindertotenlieder - "a provocation to Providence for which he paid dear" - and the first performance of Karl Fiorini's Valletta-inspired Four Miniatures, commissioned by the Valletta Cultural Agency and setting words by Sophie Charpentier. Sub-texting the Bauhaus connection, the programme adds Poulenc's 1929 Aubade, a choreographic concerto addressing the plight of Diana, the virgin "huntress, chaste and fair" of Roman mythology condemned to eternal chastity, in which Schembri and the distinguished pianist Lucia Micallef renew a long-standing concert and studio partnership. Launching the evening is the first of Hindemith's Kammermusik essays, with cameo roles for Charlene Farrugia, piano, and Franko Bo?ac, accordion - the instrument, who can forget, of Charles Camilleri's early virtuoso celebrity.


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